Downie Learned Deep Throat’s Identity Months Ago

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By: Joe Strupp

Until now, it was believed that only Bob Woodward, Carl Bernstein and their former editor at The Washington Post, Ben Bradlee, knew the identity of fabled source “Deep Throat.” But the newspaper’s current executive editor, Leonard Downie, Jr., found out several months ago that Deep Throat was former FBI official W. Mark Felt, saying Woodward had revealed the source’s identity to him as part of preparations for the source’s possible death.

“Bob had written a lot about Deep Throat for his files and he showed them to me a couple of months ago so we could prepare for his death because he was so old,” Downie told E&P today, referring to the 91-year-old Felt. “Bob had all of this material in place and had written down an account of his time with him and because of his advancing age, I thought we should have a contingency plan in place when he died.”

As part of the preparation, Woodward told him it was Felt. But, Downie said no obit had been written.

Downie, who has worked at the Post since 1968 and served as deputy metro editor during the Watergate coverage, said he had guessed that Felt was the source as far back as five years ago when he wrote the name on a piece of paper, sealed it in an envelope, and gave it to Woodward to hold. He said Woodward reminded him of the guess Tuesday.

At the time he found out Deep Throat’s identity, Downie also directed Post reporter David von Drehle to “read up as much as he could on Watergate and Deep Throat to be ready to write a story” when he died, but did not reveal the identity to Von Drehle. Downie also said he informed Post Chairman Donald Graham and Bradlee that he knew the source’s identity, but did not tell Graham who it was.

Wednesday’s lead story about the Felt disclosure was written by Von Drehle, while a lengthy account about Felt’s role in the paper’s coverage is being written for Thursday’s paper by Woodward.

“Over the years, I had been among those trying to guess who it was,” Downie recalled. “I first thought it was Elliot Richardson, then L. Patrick Gray. After they died, I made the guess about Felt and wrote it down. After three strikes, I wasn’t out.”

Downie said he believed Felt was the source because “I knew who the rest of their sources were, and he was never one of them. I thought he was a logical person because he was smart and concerned about the good of the country.” When Woodward disclosed the identity, Downie said he told him, “I had already guessed it.”

The executive editor said he was away at a retreat in St. Michaels, Md., several hours from Washington, when word broke Tuesday about Felt’s admission. He said he was giving a presentation about upcoming design plans for the paper when his cell phone rang.

“I turned it off and kept giving the presentation,” Downie recalled. “Then Don Graham’s phone rang and he went outside to answer it, then various people’s Blackberrys were going off.” A few minutes later, Downie said he ended his presentation and joined Graham outside, who had just been called by Woodward.

“I drove back and made it back in record time without getting arrested for speeding,” Downie said, adding that he reached the paper at about 2:15 p.m. and eventually met with Woodward, Bradlee, and Carl Bernstein, all of whom eventually agreed to acknowledge that Felt was Deep Throat.

Having edited some of the Watergate stories at the time, Downie described the mood at the paper as “very nostalgic. … It’s great, having Woodward and Bernstein in the newsroom together again.”


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